Britain’s Top Catholic Resigns Before Conclave Vote on Pope

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s most senior Catholic cleric, stepped down amid allegations he behaved inappropriately toward priests in the 1980s.

O’Brien, 74, has denied any wrongdoing. The archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh had handed in his resignation to Pope Benedict XVI on Nov. 13 and said in a statement the pontiff had decided to accept it with effect today.

“Approaching the age of 75 and at times in indifferent health, I tendered my resignation some months ago,” O’Brien said in the statement on the Scottish Catholic media office’s website. “The Holy Father has now decided that my resignation will take effect today and that he will appoint an apostolic administrator to govern the archdiocese in my place.”

The cardinal won’t take part in the conclave that votes on the next pope following Benedict’s decision to step down at the end of this month, the office said.

The Observer newspaper said that three priests and one former priest reported O’Brien to the Vatican earlier this month for inappropriate behavior dating back 30 years. O’Brien was seeking legal advice, the BBC reported, without saying where it got the information.

Peter Kearney, director of the Catholic Media Office in Glasgow, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment by Bloomberg on his mobile phone or office line. His voicemail directed callers to the Scottish Catholic website.

“It would be a great pity if a lifetime of positive work was lost from comment in the circumstances of his resignation,” Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said in a statement today. “None of us know the outcome of the investigation into the claims made against him but I have found him to be a good man for his church and country.”

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